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Jesus at the Temple July 29, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 21:12-17.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus enters the temple and throws out:

  • all who are working with the priests to extort the people
  • makers of small change.

Since they have fulfilled a prophecy in Jeremiah 7:11, He must fulfill a prophecy in Isaiah 56:7.

He then shows compassion to those who suffer, and young boys worship Him. While the chief priests and the scribes are furious, He asserts that this act of worship fulfills a prophecy in Psalm 8:2.

Thoughts: Here, the chief priests and the scribes respond to Jesus’ acts of compassion with anger. When I read this passage, I immediately judged them for their response, as I failed to comprehend it. Upon further reflection, I determined that their response stemmed from their spiritual arrogance; they viewed Jesus as a lunatic from Nazareth (not Jerusalem) who had not been divinely commissioned by God, as He promoted heresies. On a related note, as modern-day believers, we must not allow our biases to impact our response to God and His genuine work in the world. For example, believers in First World countries should not immediately dismiss accounts of miracles in Third World countries. Instead, we should ask Him for discernment in assessing their veracity – and the strength to praise Him even if we cannot reach a firm conclusion on that point.

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The Triumphal Entry July 28, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 21:1-11.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus dispatches two of His disciples to Bethphage, stating that they will find a donkey and its colt that have not been ridden. They should bring the donkey and its colt to Him.

The disciples comply with His command – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Zechariah 9:9. They then place their outer robes on both animals; He sits on the colt, and the donkey leads them into Jerusalem.

They are joined by a massive crowd, who celebrate and cry out for salvation; they reference Psalm 118:26 in their declaration that He is their political Messiah.

Thoughts: Here, we learn that Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem fulfills a prophecy in Zechariah 9:9. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

It appears that this prediction was literally and exactly fulfilled. The words which the prophet spoke through the Holy Spirit were not accomplished in a merely figurative way: as he said, so it came to pass; as he foretold, so it was done. Five hundred and fifty years had passed away since the prediction was made – and then, when the appointed time arrived, the long-promised Messiah did literally ride into Zion “on a donkey.”

We should marvel at the fact that God – through His sovereignty, omniscience, omnipotence, and faithfulness – fulfilled this prophecy to the letter. That being said, how can we draw strength and encouragement from this passage, given that almost two thousand years have elapsed since the ascension of Christ? In particular, does His promise of His Second Coming resonate with us? Can we maintain our confidence in Him as we anticipate a sign that He will fulfill that specific promise? Can the mockery of nonbelievers – who reject that specific promise – spur us toward renewed faithfulness as we anticipate the denouement of His plan of salvation?

We see that a massive crowd declares that Jesus of Nazareth is their political Messiah. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Of all the admiring crowds who thronged round our Lord as he entered Jerusalem, none stood by him when he was delivered into the hands of wicked men…this is a proof of the utter folly of thinking more of human praise than the praise of God. Nothing in truth is so fickle and uncertain as popularity: it is here today and gone tomorrow…

When I read this passage, I dismissed the crowd’s reaction to Jesus, knowing that they would soon reject Him as their political Messiah and even demand His crucifixion. That being said, I believe that if I had been in Jerusalem at that time, I would have also proclaimed Him as my political Messiah. Indeed, we cannot look past that which is temporal without the supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit. We need His assistance to understand the true identity of Christ; that is easier said than done, as even modern-day believers, who have access to a plethora of resources on this topic, wrestle with the nature of His Person and work.

Two Blind Men Receive Sight July 21, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 20:29-34.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus has completed His ministry in Peraea and is heading to Jerusalem. Two blind beggars scream at Him – acknowledging Him as the Messiah and beseeching Him to have mercy on them. He feels their pain – and restores their sight. They respond to this miracle by praising God.

Thoughts: Here, two blind men acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Such faith may well put us to shame. With all our books of evidence, lives of saints and libraries of divinity, how few know anything of simple, child-like confidence in Christ’s mercy and Christ’s power. Even among believers, the degree of faith is often strangely disproportionate to the privileges enjoyed. Many an unlearned man who can only read his New Testament with difficulty possesses the spirit of unhesitating trust in Christ’s advocacy, while deeply-read divines are harassed by questionings and doubts.

Ryle’s insights resonate with me, as I often struggle to display “simple, child-like confidence” in Christ. While I am grateful for the opportunities that God has granted me to delve into apologetics, I have found that wrestling with difficult questions can elicit doubts concerning God’s existence and/or faithfulness. God has given us the ability to think and reason, yet these faculties can be misused. Perhaps this points to the essence of our Christian faith; by stating that abductive reasoning leads us to God, one admits the existence of alternate explanations for our observations. Moreover, even “deeply-read divines” cannot rule out these alternate explanations until the next life. That being said, God still calls – and enables – us to thrive in this temporal state of tension.

A Mother’s Request July 20, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 20:20-28.

Summary: In this passage, James, John and their mother ask Jesus for the chief place in the kingdom of God. Jesus asserts that they do not comprehend the nature of their request – as that place is reserved for those whose suffering is comparable to His own.

This request later fuels a dispute among Jesus’ disciples. He addresses this dispute by asserting that while world leaders lord it over their subjects, they must not lord it over others. Indeed, those who desire the chief place in the kingdom of God must be willing to:

  • perform menial service
  • be the bondslaves of their brethren.

This stems from the fact that He has been given in exchange for all believers.

Thoughts: Here, James, John and their mother angle for a high rank in the kingdom of God. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

But do we never commit the same mistake that the sons of Zebedee committed? Do we never fall into their error, and make thoughtless, inconsiderate requests? Do we not often say things in prayer without “counting the cost,” and ask for things to be granted to us without reflecting how much our supplications involve? These are heart-searching questions; it may well be that many of us cannot give them a satisfactory answer.

This is an interesting point; I have my heart’s desires, and I regularly express them to God in my prayers. Yet I fail to consider the full implications of my requests; I can envision their benefits, but I am ignorant of their drawbacks. Perhaps this stems from the fact that I am a finite, flawed human being with limited understanding. In contrast, God is infinite, perfect and omniscient; He considers the full implications of our requests. In light of this fact, perhaps we should pray with humility; we should acknowledge our inability to thoroughly evaluate our requests, and we should ask God for His wisdom and strength in the event that He grants our requests.

Jesus Again Predicts His Death July 15, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 20:17-19.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus begins His long ascent from Jericho to Jerusalem. He tells His disciples that He will:

  • be betrayed to the Jewish hereditary aristocracy and the scribes
  • be condemned to death
  • be placed in the hands of the Romans to be humiliated, scourged and crucified
  • conquer death after three days.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus repeats – and elaborates – His prediction of His death. I anticipate meeting His disciples in the next life and learning about their reactions to His statements in this passage. Did they comprehend any facet of His prediction? Was their judgment clouded by their vision of Him as their political Messiah? Did they attempt to refute His prediction, asserting that no tragedy would befall him? How did Judas Iscariot react when Jesus referenced betrayal in this passage? Did the other disciples believe that they could betray their Master? Did they recall any of His previous miracles when He referenced His resurrection?

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard July 14, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 20:1-16.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that His kingdom can be represented by a ruler of a house who enters a village before 6 a.m. to hire day laborers to harvest his crop. He agrees to pay them a denarius for their time and sends them into his vineyard.

At 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., and 5 p.m., he returns to that village. On each visit, he finds some who are unemployed and promises to pay them a proper wage.

At 6 p.m. he instructs his foreman to gather all of his day laborers and pay them, starting with those who have worked the least. He pays each day laborer a denarius. This act causes those who have worked the most to grumble; the ruler then rebukes them for envying their fellow day-laborers.

Similarly, all believers will receive eternal life – regardless of the idiosyncrasies of their walk with Him.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus asserts that all believers will receive eternal life – regardless of the duration of their relationship with Him. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

His Gospel holds out pardon and peace with God through Christ to the heathen of our own times, as fully as it did to St. Paul. The converted inhabitants of Tinnevelly and New Zealand will be as fully admitted to heaven as the holiest patriarch who died 3500 years ago.

After reading through this passage, I pondered the following questions:

  • would any believer not desire the salvation of their fellow man?
  • would any believer actually desire the eternal condemnation of their fellow man?

Personally, I would desire the salvation of my worst enemy, as the thought of eternal suffering is simply unbearable. Even if one were to commit the most heinous crimes in this life, I would not want them to suffer for an infinite period of time. Thus, this parable should spur us to redouble our efforts in spreading the Gospel message to unbelievers.

Ryle also includes the following clarification in his commentary:

Let us beware of supposing from this parable that all saved souls will have the same degree of glory. To suppose this is to contract many plain texts of Scripture. The title of all believers no doubt is the same – a place in haven. “Each will be rewarded according to his own labor” (1 Corinthians 3:8).

Thus, as believers, we should not respond to this passage with complacency. While all believers will receive eternal life, God still calls us to respond to this priceless gift with thanksgiving – as expressed in our thoughts, words and deeds. One caveat is that the prospect of additional rewards in heaven should not be our primary motivation in this life. While we know that our labor will be rewarded, His glory should serve as our primary motivation. I should note, though, that I (and, I suspect, other believers) struggle to shift my focus from eternal rewards to His glory.

The Rich Young Man July 8, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 19:16-30.

Summary: In this passage, a rich young man asks Jesus how he can obtain the life of God. Jesus responds by asserting that one obtains the life of God by keeping His commandments.

The rich young man asserts that He has kept all of God’s commandments – yet it turns out that he cannot place all of his possessions under His Lordship.

Jesus then stresses the following point: it is impossible for a rich man to obtain the life of God.

His disciples are dumbfounded; they wonder if anyone can obtain the life of God. Jesus responds by stating that while men cannot obtain it by their own efforts, God can enable them to obtain it by causing them to submit to His Lordship. Moreover, at His Second Coming, His disciples will:

  • reign with Him
  • inherit the entire body of Christ.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus asserts that a rich man cannot obtain the life of God by his own efforts. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Riches, which all desire to obtain – riches, for which people labor and toil and become gray before their time – riches are the most perilous possession. They often inflict great injury on the soul; they lead people into many temptations; they engross people’s thoughts and affections; they bind heavy burdens on the heart, and make the way to heaven even more difficult than it naturally is.

While I lead a (relatively) spartan life, I strive to retain the comforts that I enjoy. Since I crave security and comfort, I strive to retain my job; moreover, the prospect, however remote, of unemployment is worrisome. I posit that many believers experience at least some stress regarding their finances at some point in this life; even if one has achieved financial security by accumulating great wealth, I posit that the process of building a nest egg is stressful. I struggle to maintain my confidence and trust in God’s providence on a daily basis, and I certainly need His forgiveness for those instances where I have doubted His willingness to supply my daily needs.

Jesus also asserts that each believer inherits the entire body of Christ. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Christ can raise up friends for us who will more than compensate for those we lose; Christ can open hearts and homes to us far more warm and hospitable than those that are closed against us; above all, Christ can give us peace of conscience, inward joy, bright hopes and happy feelings, which will far outweigh every pleasant earthly thing that we have cast away for his sake.

I do not know if I have lost any friends due to my faith, as none of the unbelievers whom I have known have ever stated that they could not interact with me due to my Christian worldview. I do know that I have enjoyed the hospitality and care of various believers over the years. I am grateful for those believers whom God has placed in my life to bless me and encourage me in my walk with Him; I am curious as to how God will enable me to maintain – and deepen – those relationships in the next life…

The Little Children and Jesus July 2, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 19:13-15.

Summary: In this passage, people are bringing their babies to Jesus so that He would bless them and pray for them. Yet the disciples attempt to drive them away.

Jesus is furious with His disciples, as His grace extends to babies. He then blesses and prays for many babies before departing.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus blesses and prays for many babies. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Let us begin from their very earliest years to deal with them as having souls to be lost or saved, and let us strive to bring them to Christ; let us make them acquainted with the Bible as soon as they can understand anything; let us pray with them, and pray for them, and teach them to pray for themselves. We may rest assured that Jesus looks with pleasure on such endeavors, and is ready to bless them.

At my previous church, I served as a Sunday School teacher for a class where the majority of the students were in high school. I enjoyed serving in that capacity, especially since at least some of the students sharpened their understanding of God in the process. When I decided to volunteer as a Sunday School teacher at my current church, though, I was assigned to serve in a K-2 class. Serving in this capacity has been challenging, as I am unsure as to whether the students are drawing closer to God (e.g. most of the kindergartners are actually illiterate). Thus, I was glad to read Ryle’s above-mentioned quote; I must remain confident that God does look “with pleasure on” my teaching and that He will work, in His timing, to draw these K-2 students to Himself.

Divorce July 1, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 19:1-12.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus enters the area of Perea, where He teaches and heals a sizable crowd.

Yet some Pharisees want to discredit Him; thus, they ask Him if He sanctions divorce for any reason. He responds in the negative, quoting from Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24 to support His position. These passages demonstrate that God has established marriage to display:

  • His divine plan for His creation
  • an unbreakable bond between two partners
  • the oneness of two partners – which cannot be divided
  • a divine action – which should not be reversed.

The Pharisees respond by referencing Deuteronomy 24:1-4, as they believe that God sanctions divorce in that passage. Jesus responds by asserting that God only tolerates divorce – and only when at least one partner has committed adultery.

His disciples respond by asserting that singleness is preferable to marriage. Jesus cautions them on this point, as only the following categories of people can prefer singleness to marriage:

  • those with congenital disorders
  • those who have been castrated
  • those who have chosen singleness to advance the kingdom of God.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus asserts that divorce should be avoided at all costs. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Nations are nothing but a collection of families. The good order of families depends entirely on keeping up the highest standard of respect for the marriage tie…

I am thankful that I was raised in a two-parent household, as I believe that both of my parents provided me with tangible and intangible benefits (e.g. stability at home allowed me to reach my academic potential). If I had been raised in a single-parent household, I wonder how my life would have turned out (e.g. would I have come to faith in Christ). Clearly it is possible for children raised in single-parent households to be “successful”, though my limited understanding of this topic is that being raised in a two-parent household increases one’s “odds of success.” Knowledgeable readers should feel free to correct me on this point if I am mistaken.

This passage does raise several challenging questions regarding God’s view of divorce when neither partner has committed adultery. For example, as a believer, how should you respond if your spouse:

  • renounces their faith in Christ?
  • verbally abuses you on a regular basis?
  • physically abuses you on a regular basis?

My understanding of this passage is that Jesus does not sanction divorce in any of these scenarios, though I wonder if He would sanction a (hopefully) temporary separation in the third case. If your spouse physically abuses you, you should not seek to be in their presence, as placing one’s life in jeopardy would not honor God. Yet refusing to divorce a physically abusive spouse could serve as a powerful testimony to them. That being said, I am fairly ignorant of these matters; thus, I am willing to listen to those with more experience in this regard.